What's Tony Thinking

Jobs and The Shadow Job on Labor Day 2022


As I mentioned in my recent trip reports, it appeared that many of the hotels where we stayed had staffing issues. On this Labor Day, that seems to be the rule rather than the exception. Understaffing is everywhere: service industries, retail, health care, schools, school bus drivers.

Understaffing means that the people who are working tend to be over-worked, stretching to cover more tasks and time . . . which some have been doing for a couple years now with the pandemic.

There’s an upside. Lots of jobs are paying more, though inflation undermines some of that. For workers the market is competitive. Employers get rewarded for taking care of their people, punished when they do not. Fewer people have to or are in position where they will put up with bad working conditions.

Others, who have enjoyed working from their home office and having more flexible hours, aren’t thrilled about a return to the office and are using their leverage to negotiate compromise.

Who foresaw how much the pandemic would shift and change things in the world of work? Not me. But it has.

A couple things seem to have happened. One, a lot of people in lower pay positions were deemed “essential workers,” and discovered a new status and, again, leverage.

Another thing that pandemic related stress hastened retirement among the last boomers still in the work force. True, some have returned to work and labor force, but over all, lots of people have exited, some on time, some earlier than planned, in health care, education and various professions. The pandemic added a lot of stress for many who can’t wait, or won’t wait, to get out.

Is pandemic mortality a factor as well? It would seem that deaths of more than a million people, and that’s the reported total, would include some working people and thus diminish the labor force further.

And for some, highlighted by “the great resignation” reports, the pandemic pushed a reconsideration of what they want in a job — and what they don’t want or won’t accept. There’s less willingness to sacrifice your life, sanity or family for a job. And that’s good.

Here’s another factor in the mix or slant on all this. In my work for Vancouver School of Theology I’ve been talking with quite a few denominational/ church leaders about clergy. One of those used the term “shadow job.” She said that clergy are okay doing the work (worship leadership, teaching, pastoral care), it’s the “shadow job” that does them in.

I asked, “What do you mean by ‘the shadow job?'”

“All the stuff that isn’t your main job, but which wears you out. Office/ institutional politics, bullies and grumps, entitled people, having to cover stuff you don’t like or don’t understand (e. g. becoming an overnight techie).”

While no one can escape a certain amount of this kind of thing in most any work, my sense is that the pandemic amped up “the shadow job” for a lot of folks, as everyone was stretched thin. Time and again I have heard people who have recently retired say something like, “I liked the work, it was all the BS I couldn’t stand any more. That’s what drove me out.”

As I say, few escape some of this, but it seems to have gotten worse. Partly the pandemic, but partly also changing norms and behaviors.

Going through airport security yesterday I noticed signs saying, “No abusive language. No physical attacks on employees. No obscene language.” You didn’t used to have to tell people they couldn’t act like jerks. Now you do. While the pandemic heightened such bad behavior I think it was already mounting long before the pandemic. And it takes a toll. Ordinary politeness and decency are no longer “ordinary.”

So all of these things add up and leave us, this Labor Day, with a kind of Dickensian “worst of times, best of times.” Where we shall find ourselves with respect to these matters a year from now or five years from now, I sure don’t know. So we’ll leave it with the ancient Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.” That we do!




Categories: Uncategorized